"And then you light a fire, spread out your cape, make
some nice, fragrant tea with a smoky taste, and just a
nip of vodka to warm every muscle of your body, eh?
After your honest labours-----"
"Oh, don't talk about it, Comrade Commissar!'1
answered Stepan Ivanovich. "Do you know the kind of
hunting we get in our parts at this time of the year?
For pike! You wouldn't believe it, but it's true. Haven't
you heard about it? It's good fun, and, of course, you
can make a bit of money, too. As soon as the ice breaks
on the lake and the rivers overflow, they all swarm to
the banks, on to the grass and moss which the spring
waters have covered. They get into the grass and cast
their spawn. You walk along the bank and you see
what looks like sunken logs, but it's pike! You bang
away with your gun. Sometimes you get so many that
you can't stuff them all into your bag, I give you my
And an interchange of hunters' reminiscences would
begin. Imperceptibly the conversation would veer round
to the war and they wondered what was doing just now
in the division, or in the company, whether the dugouts
made in the winter were "weeping", or whether the
fortifications were "creeping", and how the Germans were
getting on, considering that in the West they were accus-
tomed to asphalt roads.
After dinner they fed the sparrows. This was a form of
amusement that Stepan Ivanovich had invented. He was
unable to sit idle and was always doing something with
his thin, restless hands. One day he suggested that the
crumbs left over from dinner be scattered on the outside
windowsill for the birds. This became a custom, and it
was not only leftover crumbs they threw out of the
window; they deliberately left slices of bread and
crumbled them, so that a whole flock of sparrows was
"put on the ration list", as Stepan Ivanovich expressed
it. It gave all the inmates of the ward immense pleasure
to watch the small, noisy creatures pecking away at a
large crust, chirping and quarrelling, and, after cleaning
up the windowsill, perching and preening themselves on
the bough of the poplar, and then, with a whir of their
wings, flying off to attend to their particular affairs.